Our first sleeper train

When we last wrote we were getting ready to head for the train station. We figured out which track to go to, boarded the train, and were pleasantly surprised by the nice quarters (granted we had paid for the nicest bunks). Our cabin had four bunks, we each had a top one, and an older Chinese lady was getting settled in one of the bottom bunks. Wow, we thought, this will be a good night’s sleep after all.

Then the family came in. Five people and one baby converged on our small cabin. We scrambled to the top bunks and wondered what was going on. Okay, a few of them started saying goodbye…but then there were still the baby, the mother, and what we thought was the nanny. The steward came by and the mother seemed to convince her that the three of them were fine in the one bunk. It was a very odd arrangement to watch. The baby quickly went to sleep and then the mom pretty much stretched out, leaving the nanny just a bit of space to sit on. We wondered how this would last for 12 hours.

But as we tried to go to sleep we quickly stopped caring about how they were making it work and just wanted them to leave. They were talking, the baby was crying. It generally turned into a miserable night. By about 3am I think we finally nodded off for a few hours.

The ancient city of Pingyao

We decided to visit Pingyao because it was a good midpoint between Beijing and Xian and the guidebook made it sound pretty cool. The city had been a prosperous banking center and its residents built beautiful courtyard mansions and then walled the city. Although the city fell into obscurity, it retained its Qing architecture (ok, we still have no idea the difference between Qing & Ming architecture) and small stone-lined streets. It’s now a UNESCO heritage site and the tourism trade is burgeoning. We were underwhelmed when leaving from the train station in a car arranged for by our hostel, but once we reached the hostel we were impressed with the old buildings. Our hostel seemed great – a renovated courtyard mansion. Our room had a traditional kahn bed…a thin mattress on a brick foundation and pillows made of rice (surprisingly comfortable actually).

Unfortunately we quickly realized that outside of looking at the pretty streets, there really was nothing to do here. All the shops are filled with the same junk tourist trap items and the restaurant scene is limited to the guesthouses. Instead of staying two nights, we decided to just stay one once we realized it was another overnight trainride to Xian. So the highlights of the two days were:

  • Laura tried her first street food item – a tasty pancake/egg type thing with chili sauce – and lived to tell the tale
  • Renting bicycles and finding our way out to a temple area with hundreds of Buddhas and Buddhist sculptures.
  • Lots of cute little children who were excited just to say hi and have us respond (and weren’t trying to sell us anything)
  • Heading into another hostel to have a beer and then taking over their dvd room to watch some movies in the afternoon

Yep, that’s about it. We’re hopeful about the train ride tonight and excited about seeing Xian and the terra cotta warriors. Later!

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